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Satz drafts proposed legislation to protect primates

Lisa Ashmore |
Emory Law Professor
Ani Satz

A new bill sponsored by US Senator Cory Booker would end unethical and unnecessary testing on nonhuman primates.

The New Jersey senator’s office contacted Emory Law Professor Ani Satz to draft what would become the “Primate Protection and Research Modernization Act of 2018” after reading her opinion article on Volkswagen’s primate experiments. In the article, Satz urged “lawmakers to enact more protective laws for animals and consumers to support companies that avoid cruelty to animals.” Satz, an expert on animal law and business ethics, has chaired the AALS Section on Animal Law and also served six years on its executive board, including the inaugural board in 2008. The bill was introduced in the Senate on December 18, 2018.

Experiments on primates often don’t yield results superior to other research methods, the bill states.

“When scientifically reliable alternatives exist, animal testing should be avoided,” Booker said. “This legislation seeks to eliminate unethical and unnecessary testing on primates and would make any new testing on primates a last resort when necessary for the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of life-threatening human diseases.”

The proposed law has four major components: 

  1. It restricts testing on primates by requiring review and approval by a new expert committee. Approved research must meet four requirements: it involves prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of debilitating or life-threatening human conditions and diseases; no alternate method of research exists; research primates are housed in environments that simulate a natural habitat; and review by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) indicates the use of primates advances the particular field of research, “and has resulted in meaningful clinical interventions.” 
  1. The bill requires NAS review of existing research “to determine whether nonhuman primate research has led to meaningful clinical interventions.” 
  1. The legislation would prohibit foreign grants and restrict domestic awards to perform nonhuman primate research, unless prior approval is provided by the newly created review committee.

  2. It also bans primate research for consumer goods and products.

“Data show that studies on animals are not the best way to further knowledge in the field of human health, yet nearly half of funding from the National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of biomedical research in the world, goes toward such experiments,” says a letter signed by 24 scientists, academicians and medical practitioners in support of the bill. They argue federal dollars could be spent on more productive research. Currently, more than 110,000 primates are held in 15 federal laboratories, 159 research facilities, and seven federally funded National Primate Research Centers, the letter continues.

“Nonhuman primates exhibit abnormal behaviors in laboratory housing. They experience immense suffering before, during, and after approved experimental procedures even when protocols are correctly followed. Behavioral and physiological abnormalities in captive nonhuman primate populations contribute to poor data and skew experimental results,” the letter continues.

Satz praises Booker as “a courageous leader who recognizes vulnerability to suffering is universal and affects both human and nonhuman animals” and as someone “who lives by example.” Booker, who is vegan, also has supported animal well-being in other legislative contexts.

The bill states that within 180 days of the law’s enactment, NAS will conduct systematic reviews of preexisting research that involves primates to ensure that there is an established history of advancing the field, and research has resulted in “meaningful clinical interventions.”

The bill has been read and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.